HMRC goes on an Indonesian phishing tripby
As self assessment season kicks off, HMRC has reminded taxpayers to be vigilant against scammers impersonating the tax authority to steal personal details. One such fraudster has been arrested in Indonesia, 6,500 miles from UK soil.
As the mangrove forests of North Sumatra make way for palm oil plantations, the once abundant freshwater fish reserves are rapidly depleting. But it was phishing, not fishing, at the centre of a manhunt which led to the successful capture of a prolific tax-scammer in a remote Indonesian village.
The 36-year-old male, who has not been named, was tracked down following an investigation by HMRC's cybercrime team working alongside the Indonesian National Police (INP), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Australian Federal Police (AFP). He now faces up to 12 years in prison for selling phishing kits to cyber criminals targeting UK taxpayers.
Phishing kits are software tools such as readymade templates, script or code which can be used by scammers to set up fake webpages that mimic legitimate sites. The scammers then trick their unsuspecting victims into visiting the sites and divulging sensitive personal information and/or payment details which can be used to defraud them.
The perpetrator in question has allegedly sold this hoaxing software to cyber criminals all over the World for up to $250 a pop, with ads plastered over social media and crime forums. It replicates the websites of international organisations used by taxpayers in the UK, Canada, the USA and Australia including HMRC, Royal Mail, TV licensing and global banks.
Simon Grunwell, operational lead in HMRC’s fraud investigation service’s cybercrime team, said: “HMRC is one of the most spoofed organisations in the UK and we are doing all we can to protect the taxpayer from criminal attack, even if that attack is launched from the other side of the world. This case should show to others involved in fraud that we can and will find you."
The scale of tax scammers
HMRC reports that in the 12 months to September 2023 it received more than 130,000 reports of tax scams, with 58,000 of these offering bogus tax rebates.
The fraudsters send communications, usually in the form of text messages, emails, phone calls or WhatsApp messages, masquerading as HMRC to entice or intimidate the recipient into giving away personal details or even transferring money to them.
As well as spurious tax rebates, taxpayers should look out for messages purporting to be from HMRC which suggest their tax details need to be updated, or threatening them with arrest for tax evasion.
“We continue to urge taxpayers to be aware that scammers often pose as HMRC. If someone contacts you saying they’re from HMRC and asks you to give personal information or urgently transfer money, be on your guard. Search ‘HMRC scams’ advice on GOV.UK to find out how to report scams and help us fight these crimes,” added Grunwell.
Scammers are increasingly sophisticated and the communication will likely very closely mimic HMRC. If you or a client receives any unexpected communication from the tax authority, do not respond immediately, but take the necessary time to determine whether it seems legitimate.
A checklist to identify tax scammers
HMRC has compiled a handy checklist of signs to look out for to help taxpayers identify communication from tax scammers. As a general rule it is important to bear in mind that you will never receive a genuine email, text message or message in a platform such as WhatsApp from HMRC informing you of a tax rebate or asking you for personal or payment information.
Other signs that indicate you may have been contacted by a fraudster are listed on this page.
If you suspect that a communication you have received might have come from a scammer, the action you should take will depend on the medium used.
If you have received:
- a text message, forward it to 60599
- an email, forward it to [email protected]
- a message in an application, for example WhatsApp, take a screenshot and email it to [email protected]
- a phone call asking for personal information or threatening a lawsuit, report the call online
- a letter, contact the HMRC team the letter says it’s from, for example the self assessment team
Full guidance and advice can be found on HMRC's 'Avoid and report internet scams and phishing' webpage.
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Consulting Tax Editor for AccountingWEB.
I have spent the last 10 years teaching the accountants of the future, mainly ICAEW advanced level corporate reporting. I also cover tax news and write and edit tax updates for other publishers including PTP Limited.